It has been said that a mother invented Velcro, but I believe a pee wee basketball coach is a more likely story. I’ve never seen a game stopped so many times for such a basic task as tying one’s shoe. And it’s not like we parents don’t check those things before our kids run onto the court. And it’s not like we haven’t taught them at home. But like so many other lessons in life, we instruct, we tie shoes, then push them toward the playing field. That’s when the fun starts.
In case you hadn’t heard, Northampton County’s Park and Rec basketball league recently began its season. It isn’t something that receives container loads of publicity, but it has become a foundational activity in the county and, for many youths, a rite of passage.
Pee wee basketball is where we parents entrust the wellbeing of our children to complete strangers, then relax on the bleachers and laugh as they languish on the court like a flock of inebriated parakeets chasing a bug.
My first exposure to this tradition occurred several years ago when my son said he wanted to give basketball a try. Sitting in the stands, watching his team bumble with the ball, I realized I was observing a cultural tradition. Some citizens, I observed, take this sport quite seriously.
Surprisingly, grandparents were the worst. Balding and white-haired gentles who before the game were greeting the refs with grins and slaps on the back, a few minutes after the jump ball were lobbying the crowd for their execution.
The show on court was nothing less than mayhem with a few rules loosely applied. Rule one: Shoes must be tied at all times. Rule two: One must occasionally bounce the ball. Dribbling was optional in the pee wee brackets and often resembled a fullback running for the endzone. Rule three: Shoes must be tied at all times.
Through the years, there is much joy in watching players mature. My son has now progressed to the age bracket titled Will Someday Grow Into His Shoe Size. In this group, the kids’ bodies have outpaced their coordination, causing hysterical laughter in the bleachers as the players randomly trip over the lines on the court. Fast breaks are particularly entertaining as they usually end up with two or three bodies sprawled on the floor, sometimes at opposite ends of the gym. Even if the outlet is completely uncontested, players trip over clown-sized hooves in a show of moral support.
But kids today are much more self-confident than I at their age. If, at eleven years old, someone told me I had to show up in public with pink socks pulled over my calves and magenta Nike shoes, I simply would have dropped off the team. However, nowadays kids wear psychedelic pastels that burn your retinas. Even the most dedicated Grateful Dead fan, during one of their few lucid moments, would curl their lip at fuchsia sneakers. As long as they’re tied, I guess.
Still, the level of play has increased exponentially over the decades. When I was my son’s age, I played Park and Rec ball in this same gym. We were horrible. I could barely jump high enough to touch the net. Double digit scores meant one team was playing a man down. Today, these kids have skills, especially in the higher brackets. Their movements are accurate and quick.
Sports are invaluable for young adults. They teach teamwork, character, and (hopefully) humility. The genuine heroes of these efforts are, of course, the coaches and referees. It truly has to be a calling. I can only imagine the recruiting process:
“I was wondering if you would be interested in giving up several nights a week to work with kids you don’t know, get yelled at by parents you can never satisfy, for problems you are powerless to solve, and get paid nothing for it.”
“Sorry, I don’t feel called to be a pastor.”
“No. Nothing like that. We need a coach for pee wee basketball.”
“Uh… can I be a pastor instead?”
So, I encourage you to support the youth and future of this nation by spending some quality time with them. For the next couple months, stop by Machipongo Middle School gymnasium on any given Saturday morning. It’s fun, free, and bolsters this important institution. Just make sure your shoes are tied.